- Major supermarkets are scorning a controversial approach from the Government to share customer data for research into Genetically Modified (GM) food.
The Government wants to use information on customers' buying habits gained from supermarket loyalty cards to gauge opinion on GM products. It has made the proposition, which is likely to fall foul of the Data Protection Act, to Tesco, Sainsbury's and Safeway -- all of whom have national loyalty card schemes.
A spokesperson for Nick Brown, the Minister for Agriculture Food and Fisheries, explained: "In the Government's research into GM foods, an option is to use loyalty cards to judge buying patterns of consumers, determine the quantities in which GM foods are bought and compare labelled products with unlabelled ones."
All three supermarkets have told Campaign that they will not co-operate with the Government and abuse their customers' trust. A spokesperson for Sainsbury's dismissed the possibility out of hand, commenting: "It is a daft idea which goes completely against the promise of the Reward Card." Safeway and Tesco issued similar statements.
A spokesperson for the Data Protection Registrar added: "When a customer takes out a loyalty card, it is so that they can be offered relevant discounts and product information; Government research into health is an entirely different matter. If the Government wanted explicit transactional data involving the name and address of the customer, the Data Protection Act would come into the equation."
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries has suggested compromising by narrowing the field to postcode detail only. However, the Data Protection Registrar explained that this too could contravene the Act, as many remote addresses have a unique postcode, thus identifying the customer.
If the Government is allowed to pursue the scheme, it may have to foot a huge bill to contact the millions of UK consumers who hold loyalty cards, asking for their permission to use data in this way.